The Conviction to Change in Bunny Girl Senpai | OWLS “Metamorphosis”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, then you might be new. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, welcome to my anime cafe!” For the OWLS blog tour’s first monthly topic of 2019, “Metamorphosis,” I wanted to take a look at one of 2018’s best shows (in my opinion), the most unusual tale of a high school boy who encounters many different teenage girls, each of which are struggling with a bizarre phenomenon tied to personal turmoil: the (in)famous Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai.

A brand new year means new beginnings and opportunities. We have a tendency to embrace the new year because it’s a time when we can start fresh. For this month’s topic, we will be exploring our favorite dynamic characters who undergo changes for better or for worse. We will analyze these characters’ transformations and how these transformations benefited or minimized these characters’ potential in becoming “great people/beings.” We will also use these characters as a way for us to reflect on our own lives and who we want to become. Lastly, we would like to say “Happy New Year, everyone!”

Much like last year’s “Revival” tour, January ushers in new beginnings and a fresh start for us all. Here’s to the first in a long line of wonderful months to come, and thanks Lyn for the prompt!

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A brief, spoiler-free discussion on the 13-episode fall 2018 series “Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai,” animated by CloverWorks, directed by Souichi Masui, and based on the light novel series by Hajime Kamoshida. 

Troubles in Youth, the Adolescence Syndrome

Also called “puberty syndrome,” this sickness of sorts rumored on the internet to be caused by sensitivity and instability during adolescence plagues young hearts and entangles several girls in weird experiences beyond the explanation of physics.

Sakuta Azusagawa, a second-year high school student, meets these girls that are experiencing this “puberty syndrome” over the course of one eventful year. The one to stand out the most, of course, is famous child/teen actress Mai Sakurajima, which he encounters in a public library wearing a bunny costume. Although he knows her to be a senior at his school, for some reason, no one else can see Miss Sakurajima in her scantily clad attire.

When did she become invisible? How did she become invisible? As Sakuta earnestly spends more and more time with Mai-san and tries to unravel her mysterious circumstances, Mai’s hidden emotions slowly reveal themselves and a relationship of love begins to blossom.

Mai Sakurajima isn’t the only one changed by Sakuta, though—energetic underclassman Koga Tomoe is stuck in an endless time loop until she confronts her inner feelings; Sakuta’s science club friend Rio Futaba has to deal with a doppelganger of herself running around; hardworking idol Nodoka Toyohama undergoes a sudden body swap with Mai-san, who turns out to be her sister; even Sakuta’s own sister Kaede is still recovering from her terrible past with adolescence syndrome. All the while, a figure from Sakuta’s past—his first love, Shouko Makinohara—makes an incomprehensible reappearance into his life.

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Love, Romance, & Schrödinger’s Cat

Sakurajima was a child star, adored by all and a household icon to boot. But following a couple-year hiatus caused by her transitionary high school phase and a conflict with her manager (her own mother), the teen actress fell out of the public eye. She suddenly became invisible, and the Adolescence Syndrome amplified that literal meaning.

Despite his convincingly bored and constantly horny exterior, Sakuta is a genuinely good guy. He’s honest, straightforward (a bit too much sometimes), persistent, caring, and is able to read into people surprisingly well. These qualities make him a perfect agent for change, which he acts upon to improve the lives of those he deems worthy of his friendship.

When going about “fixing” Sakurajima’s invisibility problem, Sakuta appeals to his super smart science club friend Futaba for advice. If anyone can believe him and break down the Adolescence Syndrome’s causes and cures, it’s Futaba. She postulates that the students’ collective forgetting of Mai-san was caused by the school’s atmosphere, and she makes the analogy of Schrödinger’s cat to explain how Mai’s existence cannot be confirmed by those who refuse to acknowledge her. Finally, Futaba proposes that if the atmosphere were to be shaken enough to awaken everyone’s memories, Mai-san’s life would return to normal.

With the school as the box and Mai-san as the cat, the Schrödinger’s cat tie-in helps to create a powerful metaphor for the change process. Unless we open the box and confront its contents, we’ll never know if the cat is dead or alive, thus it is half of both. Similarly, until we open up to others with our problems and allow each other to see why we are hurt, confused, or scared, we’ll never be able to understand one another, and thus our problems will prevail.

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In this case, Sakuta persistently sought after people who knew Mai-san’s personal life, including her mother (and sister as well later on), to unravel the reason for Mai’s actions and the consequences pressed by the Adolescence Syndrome. So, what did he find? Sakuta urged Mai-san to return to her acting career. After all, she loves show business. But what made things different this time is that she wouldn’t let her mother micromanage her life. Instead, she’d plant her feet and make the choices she wanted to make.

Just like Futaba the science whiz found, unless the name Mai Sakurajima was put back into the student body’s mind in a way that broke the static atmosphere, nothing would change. Determined not to give up on Mai even though he, too, had almost forgotten her forever, Sakuta came up with a daring last-minute plan to make everyone remember. And while confessing the love of your life to every single person at school by shouting from the baseball field was a bit over-the-top, you can definitely call Sakuta’s efforts in making Mai Sakurajima visible once again commendable. Quite praiseworthy indeed!

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Change to Last a Lifetime

On the subject of metamorphosis itself, one characteristic that makes Sakuta Azusagawa stand out as a “hero” type protagonist is his conviction to not only solving each problem plaguing our cast, but his focus on making lifelong changes rather than little remedies to temporary issues. Like, he could have just told Sakurajima to get back into acting or “broke the atmosphere” from the start. Instead, he devoted immense time and energy to reconstructing Mai-san’s mindset geared towards a fresh, new perspective on self-confidence. Considering how that involves rebuilding a mother-daughter relationship, I’d say it’s no small effort whatsoever.

The same could be said about the other girls, though. For Koga Tomoe, he didn’t merely get her to confront her feelings—he willingly went along with her repeated time looping until she felt comfortable being honest about the nature of a one-sided romance. Sakuta helped Koga get her friends back, her reputation back, and all because she was a true friend to him. Even with Futaba, the problem wasn’t just with eliminating the doppel—it was about filling the hole in her heart with friendship, youthful memories, and some good, honest fun.

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If there’s one big takeaway from Bunny Girl Senpai, it’s that deep down, we’re all just trying to keep the past out of the future, even if that means giving up on some of the things we love. It’s a romantic notion, don’t get me wrong, but that’s not how we should be living our lives—and Sakuta Azusagawa knows it.

Try as we might, we’ll never be able to completely let the past go. Whether its remnants haunt us in the present, like Mai’s longing to act again and Kaede’s desire to see the outside world, or our feelings keep us from moving forward, as with Koga and Futaba, there will always be something we hate about ourselves, something to regret.

What we can do, however, is do our best to live without said regrets—to think, act, and dream as if we are absolutely owning our lives. And if we don’t like how things are going, we CHANGE what we can such that we create the world we want to live in. The conviction to change is something that ultimately comes from within, and having close friends, even just a couple, can make this exciting way of living all the more within our grasp—we just have to be willing to reach out, change the atmosphere, and when we’re ready, open the box. 

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“No matter who you were before, how you look right now is who you are.”— Sakuta Azusagawa


Afterword

Whew! This one was a bit of a cram watch, but I’m glad I finished it for a post like this one. Despite seeming like a surface-level rom-com with pervy jokes and toilet humor, Bunny Girl Senpai is surprisingly full of complex metaphysical concepts. Through its amazing and mature lead characters, Sakuta and Mai, it’s able to weave in these interesting principles with thought-provoking conversations and an air of scientific wonder. If you’re wanting a harem-ish anime that offers more emotional and intellectual challenge (or Bakemonogatari without the abstract directing style), give Bunny Girl Senpai a shot. You might enjoy the chemistry (and petty banter) between the leads more than you initially think! Plus, the voice acting is great, the animation is pretty, and OP and ED themes are absolute BOPS.

As for the cafe, Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai is certified “Caffe Mocha,” a show from 2018 that’s simply too awesome to miss out on! Seeing as how I focused this post solely a few story/character points, I’d be delighted to hear your thoughts on the rest of the series down in the comments.

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This concludes my January 13th entry in the OWLS “Metamorphosis” blog tour. I tried going for a shorter, more condensed and focused form of writing for this OWLS post, so if you have any feedback on that I’d greatly appreciate it. Jack (The Aniwriter) went right before me and wrote about change and the liberation it can offer in Wandering Son, a series I really ought to watch! Now, look out for Megan (Nerd Rambles) on Sunday, January 13th! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

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My Top Five Favorite OWLS Posts That I Wrote in 2018

Hello! Happy New Year!

I realize 2019 has already begun, but there are still a few 2018 round-up posts I plan to write, one of those being this one right here. My top five OWLS posts of 2017 listing was fairly well-received by you all, so I decided to bring it back! As I mentioned last year, it’s hard to pick favorites. But, in the spirit of the New Year and bidding the old farewell, I’ve managed to select five OWLS posts that accurately represent the sum of who I am, why I write, and what I want you, the reader, to learn!

As previously mentioned, all of my OWLS posts are my babies—in fact, they’re probably some of the best posts I’ve ever written, if not THE best of what I’ve got so far, and I thoroughly LOVED writing ALL of them—so enjoy my reminiscing, and feel free to scope them out if you missed them, or are feeling the urge to relive each month’s thought-provoking topic.

On the header/taskbar thingy of my site, you’ll see that OWLS has its own tab (and rightly so), so you can find the rest of 2018’s posts there! Alrighty then, let’s take one last look at some of the posts I wrote in 2018!


RUNNER UP:

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Tour #19 July – The Royal Tutor: A Heartfelt Lesson on Judgement | OWLS “Mentor”

Like several of the titles I featured for each month, my watch of The Royal Tutor came at just the right time. I recall desparately searching my watch catalog just nights before the post was due, and then Heine Wittgenstein waltzed into my life and all was well. Not a single episode goes by where Heine fails to offer a valuable lesson on what it means to be human, and its that strict attention to theme that gives this OWLS post an easy runner-up position on the list. Heck, Heine practically wrote the post for me!

Life Lessons Learned:

  • Before quitting something you want to do, you should always explore alternative solutions.
  • This world is very big. Do not deprive yourself of people who will understand and care for you.
  • We should all believe in second chances.

NUMBER FIVE:

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Tour #24 December – Finding a Place to Belong: Tokyo Godfathers & the Gift of Kindness | OWLS “Miracles”

Here’s another one of those last-minute struggle watches that I managed to cram in right before the deadline, and boy am I glad I finally watched this anime cult Christmas classic. In the post, I dabbled a bit on how “God’s miracles” are what guide these three crazy homeless friends through an eventful Christmas Eve in Tokyo. The unfathomable number of plot conveniences can be explained by the presence of this guiding light, and this wild series of events—which can only be described as miraculous—are what make it the perfect fit for not only the monthly theme, but the holiday season.

Life Lessons Learned:

  • Life has a funny way of dealing with some situations—embrace chaos with faith.
  • A simple conviction to kindness will surround you with good company and food aplenty.
  • We will always have the opportunity to be kind to others.

NUMBER FOUR:

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Tour #13 January – All That Glitters IS Gold in “Land of the Lustrous” | OWLS “Revival”

Similar to our first tour of 2019, “Metamorphosis,” January and the New Year revolve around change. It involves a spirit of revival, an air of renewal, and the determination to change oneself for the better. Similarly, I found Phos’ journey to find purpose and self-worth to be an excellent fit for 2018’s first monthly topic. (I also happened to be watching it at the time, but I digress.) Just as how humans are fragile beings at heart, the Gems of Land of the Lustrous can shatter into hundreds of tiny pieces—some Gems more than others, namely Phos. Although the post is a tad bit on the longer side to accommodate every aspect that I wanted to hit on, I still look back on it fondly as how 2018 started—a shimmering, hopeful time to try new things. 

Life Lessons Learned:

  • Change is scary. It can be painful, it can be sudden, and it can be dangerous. Change involves suffering, but that grief is a necessity for growth.
  • Self-worth isn’t determined by the people around you, but rather what YOU make of yourself.
  • So long as we can hope to become better individuals—actively seeking to help others in return—change and improvement just might someday find us, too.

NUMBER THREE:

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Tour #20 August – From the New World: Through Horror, Calamity, & the Truth | OWLS “Journey”

This show, oh man, how far we go back together. I find it quite rare for a series to impact my views on critical concepts like justice and dignity so easily. And then comes along Shinsekai Yori to flip everything that I knew on its head. Absolutely loaded from head to toe with painful themes of reality and the duality of man, From the New World represents so much more than sci-fi series about good and evil. Rather, it’s a journey through horror, calamity, and the truth, and how the truth can sometimes be the cruelest thing of all. Given how complex it is, I was quite satisfied with how I was able to sum up each of the story’s arcs and how they impact Saki Watanabe, the lead character. (Also, I really, really like the header image I designed for this one.) It’s riveting, it’s meaningful, it’s powerful, and of all the shows I’ve EVER scene, few deserve the title of masterpiece quite like From the New World does.

Life Lessons Learned:

  • To feign ignorance is the greatest crime of all. Corruption breeds from within when we close off our minds and our hearts to new peoples and ideas.
  • People are twisted, easily corrupted, and worst of all, easily scared. But while we are weak when we are desperate, we are strong when it counts.
  • “We have to change our way of thinking if we really want to change the future.”

NUMBER TWO:

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Tour #16 April – Yūki Hayashi: Music to Motivate the Soul | OWLS “Melody”

I try to dedicate a solid paragraph in each of my anime reviews to the series’ soundtrack composer. What can I say, I’m a music man, and Yuuki Hayashi just so happens to be my favorite anime soundtrack composer! He’s done the background music for so many of my favorite shows, and it was about time that I dedicated an entire post—a very special OWLS post at that—to Hayashi’s genius. At long, long last, I got to practically fanboy about all my favorite anime soundtracks, but there’s another reason I picked a composer rather than a single song or series to focus on. You see, Hayashi’s music isn’t just epic—it’s also inspirational, a set of notes and sounds designed to motivate the very soul. And although this one low-key has my favorite header graphic, it’s missing one final relatability factor to push it into number one.

Life Lessons Learned:

  • Music encapsulates and can provide inspiration to lift us off our feet, motivation to push us forward, heartache to make us grow, the strength to go beyond, and the ambition to fulfill our dreams.
  • Know that the view from the summit is one that exists ONLY for you—so chase after it relentlessly.
  • Try new things, make mistakes, meet new people, but never, never give up on your reasons for wanting to improve. Because maybe, in the process of overcoming your own impossible odds, you’ll inspire someone else to be a better human.

AND FINALLY, NUMBER ONE:

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Tour #18 June – Princess Jellyfish: Confidence, Community, & the Beauty Below the Surface | OWLS “Pride”

Here’s your number one for 2018! Did it surprise you? Princess Jellyfish burst onto the scene of my life and totally changed my views on confidence, community, and the inner beauty we each possess below the surface. It features a dynamic, hilarious, and heartwarming cast of otaku NEETS who are all just struggling to get by in society, as well as the one queen who will unite them all in their effort to freely express themselves. Princess Jellyfish is the epitome of pride, a story that is attest to how vast our personalities truly are, and although I was a bit long-winded with other technical aspects of the series, this post really is just one big expression of love. Princess Jellyfish is a series about loving what you want to love, and bonding with those who share that same incredible sentiment. At its very end, the story of Princess Jellyfish embodies something so pure, hopeful, and passionate that it becomes impossible to not enjoy—and it’s for all these wonderful reasons and more that I select June’s “Pride” post as my favorite OWLS post of 2018.

Life Lessons Learned:

  • Sometimes you need to see yourself in a different way in order to appreciate who you’ve been this whole time.
  • Beauty is not something you simply put on: it’s an emotion you feel when you’re at your best. 
  • Above all else, so long as you take pride in yourself and the things you love, all people—including us adults—still have plenty of room for growth and change.

A HUGE Round of Applause to the OWLS Crew!

WHEW! After binge-reading ALL of the 2018 OWLS posts from January 1st to December 31st, I can officially say that each and every one of us deserve a pat on the back. Seriously though, all of lovely individuals in OWLS are not only fantastic people, but awesome writers as well, and while I didn’t share every single post over on Twitter (for fear of clogging up everyone’s feed), each one of them most certainly deserves the read.

This post compiles my favorite OWLS posts that personally wrote. As bloggers, I’m sure we can all identify our stronger posts compared to the rest of our catalog. So, if you are an OWLS member, I’d love to read what you found to be your own favorites! Think of it as celebrating your accomplishments for being a member of such a cool group. 🙂

Speaking of accomplishments . . . to my knowledge, I am one of the few who has posted for every single tour. That’s 24 posts since our debut in 2017! While I plan to write more posts aside from OWLS ones (as that is what became of me this year, whoops), I am happy with myself for not giving up and sticking with the group through each thought-provoking monthly topic. It’s just a small sidenote, but I’m proud for having come this far, and I look forward to hopefully adding 12 more posts come December 2019!

Anyway, that’s it for me. What did you think of the line-up? Did you have a particular favorite month to read/write for, either of my posts or everyone else’s? Or are you, like I was less than a month ago, still in the process of catching up? Haha! Either way, thank you so much for supporting me throughout my 2018 OWLS journey, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Finding a Place to Belong: Tokyo Godfathers & the Gift of Kindness | OWLS “Miracles”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, then you might be new. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, welcome to my anime cafe!” For the OWLS blog tour’s twelfth monthly topic for 2018, “Miracles,” I wanted to feature the epitome of anime Christmas films, the one and only KING of uplifting vibes and positivity, Tokyo Godfathers!

‘Tis the season where miracles happen. For December’s theme, we will be exploring faith in anime and pop culture. We will discuss some of the miracles that enter a character’s life during their darkest moments. Some of the questions we will explore: How does a “miracle” change a person’s life? How do we define miracles? Can miracles only happen due to a legend or a mystical being? Or do miracles happen every day, but we just don’t see them? We hope that you enjoy this holiday season!

– the OWLS Team

We’re down to the end here, my friends! One last OWLS post for 2018, and I’m thrilled to finish on a film so full of heart that there truly isn’t a Christmas experience like it. Thanks again Lyn for the prompt—enjoy!~

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A brief, spoiler-free discussion on the 2003 film “Tokyo Godfathers,” animated by Madhouse, and both directed by and based on the original story by the late Satoshi Kon.

A Babe in a Manger

Christmas Eve. A glistening white snow has fallen upon Tokyo, and as three homeless friends are rummaging in a dump for a Christmas present, they discover a newborn baby. Despite having nothing to their name, the three take in this pure little girl which they name “Kiyoko.” Knowing they can’t support the child on their own for long, however, they take to the streets in search of Kiyoko’s mother, based on the small amount of info they gathered from her meager belongings.

But just as how the night before Christmas is the longest for any young child, these three poor vagabonds become entangled in a wild series of events involving a kidnapping, crime, death, a fight between rival gangs, and a crazy chase throughout the vast city.

A transvestite, an alcoholic, and a runaway teenager may make for an unlikely team, but what binds them together in their search for where this baby belongs is their inherent goodwill and incredible heart. By finally raising their heads toward the future, they are also able to confront their pasts, coming just a little bit closer to finding their own place in this wild world—a Christmas miracle in itself.

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I love Satoshi Kon works, but in some ways I also hate them. His vivid artistry, unique directing style, and powerful storytelling are masterful (and totally iconic). But while he knows how to blow my mind and make me see the world in a whole new way, he also knows exactly how to make me feel weak, shameful, and powerless as a human being.

Tokyo Godfathers is very much a human story. It features three troubled individuals living in an unequal, unfinished world, and although they finally address the error of their ways, their individual revelations occur only after being ridiculed, accused, and exposed for the true sins of their past. (Also, they get physically and emotionally beat up throughout the film’s entirety, which is met with frequent crying and wailing in the Tokyo slums.)

Just as how the film is praised for its soulful story, inventive directing, lively character animation, and holiday cheer, it also, fittingly for Kon, makes the viewer feel pity for the cast and anger towards the socioeconomic imbalance in the world, yet helpless to do anything about it! But maybe there is something we can do—after all, this wouldn’t be a post about the joy of miracles if it ended in in heartache and tragedy.

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Coincidence, Miracles, & Faith

Equally touching as it is prophetic, there are a stunning number of what can only be called “coincidences” that stack up in Tokyo Godfathers. I mean, I can understand running into “the one” person you need to see in the sprawling Tokyo cityscape as a means of plot convenience, but man, talk about being in the right place at the right time!

Over the course of the film, our three homeless friends stumble into ordeal after ordeal, yet persist out of the goodness in their hearts—and fate, or more appropriately here, God, assists in their noble endeavor. How does Hana always know the right path to take? How does Miyuki seem to constantly entangle herself in trouble, yet flee at just the right time? And how does Gin manage to stay alive? Simply, it is God who is watching over our homeless friends, and his subtle roles and appearances can be found in the backgrounds. Perhaps he could be keeping tabs on them from on high through a billboard depicting a crying woman; other times, God manifests in more illusionist ways: walls and windows that create faces, figurines with pulsating stares, and angel statues representing guidance.

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In these mystical, foreshadowing ways that Satoshi Kon has mastered through cinematography, Kon transforms one of the film’s biggest critiques—its over-dependence on an unnaturally high number of plot conveniences—into a powerful, compelling theme: faith and goodwill towards others are rewarded with protection against the unknown.

Faith plays a strong role in Tokyo Godfathers. Whether in the opening Christmas Eve church sermon or the biblical motifs scattered throughout the film, Kon makes it clear that those who believe in the good in others are granted love and respect in turn—which is interesting given that Satoshi Kon supposedly wasn’t a religious man. More importantly, kindness isn’t a virtue limited to religion. Kon teaches us that anyone can be kind, and that empathy and altruism can be found in the rarest of places . . .

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Three Wise *Homeless* Men

Ok, so they’re technically not all “men,” seeing as how Hana identifies as a transwoman, but the motif still holds. As the holy scriptures dictate, Gin, Hana, and Miyuki stumble upon a babe in a dumpster, but instead of bringing Kiyoko gifts, our three wise men find her a home. What we eventually find out, however, is that the baby isn’t the only one suffering from displacement. Each in their own way, Gin, Hana, and Miyuki can’t go back to their previous way of life, and that dissolution has led them to be homeless both in the physical and mental sense.

But life has a funny way of dealing with such situations. In a tale that is equal parts dramatic as it is comedic, our homeless trio is predestined to find a sense of belonging so long as they confront the shadows of their past and persist through the present, to which they certainly do. As a new fan of the film, I just love these three silly goons!! Miyuki’s rebellious teenage side shines in her fiery dialogues with Gin. And as if they needed more reason for conflict, Gin and Hana never cease bickering with one another, much like a married old couple. A drunk, a homo, and a teen girl—who would’ve thought such a cast could be so enjoyable to watch!

In all seriousness, I especially adored Hana’s kind, motherly nature. Hana is also highly intuitive, as she’s always able to pick the right direction to take, as well as describe exactly what Kiyoko’s mother would be doing upon finding her. As the situation calls for her to sacrifice more and more, we see how willing, courageous, and caring she truly is despite suffering from (and hiding) her own personal sickness. She draws a tragic relation to the story about the Blue Demon, and knowing full-well that she, too, must eventually go away, Hana’s challenge to care for the baby she’s always wanted likely is her final test to determine her fate in the afterlife. And given that final leap of faith at the end where she literally jumps off a building to save the child—an event which can only be called miraculous—it becomes clear that she definitely passed the test. Bold and brazen, loud and proud, funny as heck and never afraid to stick out her neck for the ones she loves most, Hana is a gift to us all.

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A Christmas Miracle

As the old aphorism goes, “In the end, we only regret the chances we didn’t take,” and if there’s anything to be learned from Tokyo Godfathers, it’s that the good and bad in life comes and goes, but we always have the opportunity to be kind to others.

As Gin comes to terms with his gambling and alcohol addictions, he takes ownership of the actions in his life and becomes determined to not mess up the second chance he’s been given with his daughter.

For Miyuki, she accepts the terrible things she did to her father tries to seek him out to apologize and mend their bond.

Hana is finally granted the opportunity to be a mother—to care for a child, to love it, and to provide warmth for it in the harsh winter cold.

And lastly, a mother learns what it’s like to lose her child—to lose everything that mattered to her—as well as what it feels like to miraculously get it back.

With justice and dignity intertwined with love and hope on this eventful Christmas Eve, Satoshi Kon performs Christmas miracles and delivers a story to stand the test of time—an invaluable lesson on what it truly means to be human in this wild, wild world.

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“Being able to speak freely is the lifeblood of love.” — Hana


Afterword

To be honest with you all, I’d never actually watched Tokyo Godfathers until just the other day. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve definitely been wanting to watch it for a long time now, but if it weren’t for this post, I likely wouldn’t have seen it as early as I did—and I’m sure glad I spent that cold wintry day on my bed eating a bowl of hot soup and watching such a heartwarming movie. Guys, Tokyo Godfathers is fantastic, a “Caffe Mocha” classic for sure and the perfect family friendly anime film if you’re willing to share the holy word. This isn’t an overly complex film by any means—it’s about simple emotions, a simple act of kindness, and how even the smallest of efforts can snowball and impact the lives of others.

Spend this holiday season with someone you love. Do something nice for someone else, even if you get something out of it, too. I encourage you all to dig deep within yourself—as this film has done for me—and go out there and make a difference in someone else’s life. As I always like to forward on, we only get one of these things, one life, so be sure to take all the chances you can get. And be kind to others—a simple conviction to kindness will surround you with good company and food aplenty, that I can assure you!

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This concludes my December 19th entry in the OWLS “Miracles” blog tour. Dale (That Baka Blog) went right before me and wrote a heartfelt post on one of, if not, my favorite anime film: Kiki’s Delivery Service!  Now, look out for Jack (The Aniwriter) this upcoming Friday, December 21st! Thank you so much for following my OWLS journey this year—I’ve thoroughly enjoyed writing for every single month, and I’m looking forward to all the incredible topics to be written for in 2019! ‘Till next time, Happy Holidays!~

– Takuto, your host

When Science & Magic Collide: Top 5 Reasons Why I Love Index/Railgun | OWLS “Thankful”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, then you might be new. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, welcome to my anime cafe!” For the OWLS blog tour’s  eleventh monthly topic for 2018, “Thankful,” I wanted to shed some light on a certain franchise that doesn’t ever get too much public love from me. Believe it or not, back in the day when I only had about 20 or so anime under my belt, A Certain Scientific Railgun was one of, if not my favorite anime ever. And because of its decline in publicity following the climactic Index II finale, I never really got to express how much this incredible franchise meant to me (and still does mean to me).

Here at OWLS, we are pretty thankful that we are able to come together as a community and share a love and appreciation for anime and manga. This month we will be showcasing our appreciation by giving a shout out post to our favorite manga artists, creators, production companies, and writers who produced some of our favorite works. We will be discussing our favorite works by these creators and our reasons as to why we appreciate them.

A very simple yet fitting topic for this month, I’m excited to put on the nostalgia lens and celebrate just a few of the many reasons why I’m overjoyed to have this electrifying world where science and magic collide in my life. Cause trust me–there’s never a dull moment in this city!

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A brief, spoiler-free glimpse into the massive “A Certain Magical Index/A Certain Scientific Railgun” or “Raildex” franchise, all animated by J.C. Staff, and originally written by Kazuma Kamachi.

Been a while? Let’s briefly review!

The world of Index is one where having supernatural powers is commonplace—that is, for the 2.3 million residents of Academy City. A sprawling metropolis boasting the technological prowess of a city existing 30 years in the future, everything in Academy City is regulated and organized to perfection. Because its inhabitants or Espers must develop their psychokinetic powers, an elaborate education system dominates much of the city. Sprinkle in several hundred research institutions and it’s no wonder these supercharged Espers have become associated with the scientific community.

A poor Level 0 possessing no powers but a strange knack for canceling out others’ with his right hand, Touma Kamijou finds himself ironically disenchanted by reality when he discovers that Espers aren’t the only power users roaming the planet. One day, he finds a nun literally draped over his balcony who claims to be on the run from a group of magicians. Magicians are those who practice magical arts, usually subscribing to a certain religion, church, sect, or philosophy to guide their training.

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But Touma doesn’t care about any of that—he’s already got a bunch of classes to make up, a Level 5 “bug zapper” out for guts, and a case of rotten luck that seems to follow him wherever he goes!

A Certain Magical Index chronicles Touma Kamijou’s mishaps as he stumbles through the magical side of things and entangles himself in situations that eventually threaten the balance of the two communities vying for supremacy in Academy City. Meanwhile, the spin-off A Certain Scientific Railgun functions as a sister series to Index in that it follows the Level 5 Electromaster Mikoto Misaka and the trials and tribulations she faces while encountering the dark side of Academy City.

Top 5 Reasons Why I Love Index/Railgun


#5 – The Incredible Cast of Characters

Whether you prefer the diversity of Index or the raw friendship in Railgun, you can’t deny that as a whole, both series offer a fascinating cast of characters. While some are much better developed than others (such as the “heroes” vs. the “villains”), you get the sense that each character is fighting for reasons beyond their role. As the story goes along, we see the complexities of each character shine in their individual little arcs, and although you could argue that Railgun put more love into its cast (good guys and bad guys alike), all of them are fascinating in their own right, be it with their powers, their relationships to others, or their system of beliefs. So many different personalities! The cast becomes even more fun to watch when the two stories collide, but I’ll get to that here in a minute.

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#4 – The Insane Architecture & Animation

I wanted to keep this reason separate from another on this list because it truly does deserve its own category. Simply put, this is the best set of works from J.C. Staff that I’ve ever seen, especially Railgun S. Admittedly, Index season one has aged quite a bit in all aspects; that’s not to say it’s bad, but rather quite average for a mid-2000s shounen anime. Railgun, on the other hand, looks timeless in practically all areas, be it the riveting action sequences or the more down-to-earth comedic moments. With each new season comes a more vivid, dynamic vision of what these supernatural power users are truly capable of, and naturally, newer entries will look far superior to older ones. From the explosive energy of Misaka’s signature “railgun” to the mystical spells and arts cast by magicians, the animation remains a high point for this beloved franchise. As an Esper, you are only limited by what you can’t mentally compute quick enough!

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And can we give those background artists a freakin’ round of applause?? They are the ones responsible for bringing Academy City to life: towering skyscrapers, glowing lights, roving highway streets, radiant research institutions, dirty alleyways—heck, even the seemingly infinite number of CG wind turbines littered throughout the city! The clean sci-fi aesthetic matched with homely elements like the occasional brick-paved sidewalk or flower box really does make it feel like Academy City exists in the near future—a future well within our grasp. So I’m glad we’re getting more Index and Railgun, not only for the story and characters, but because I can rely on J.C. Staff for turning these sequels into top-notch productions.

 

#3 – The Intricate, Intertwined Storytelling

We all like a good cameo here and there, right?  Well, Index is FULL of them, so much so to the point that certain characters from the science side of Railgun will hop onto the magic side and have a little fun. Sometimes these visits are brief, such as seeing the dangerous Level 5 Meltdowner chilling in a coffee shop with her friends; others are extended, like when Accelerator had that whole encounter with Index and even bought her food at everyone’s favorite family restaurant Joseph’s. We love seeing our favorite characters thriving in their element, but it can be even more fun to see them out of it and even chatting with characters we know from what feels like entirely different worlds.

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The sheer level of articulation needed to not only tell each story but intertwine them on the same time line is monstrous. To keep each little side story straight yet consistent with the main plot and other happenings in the universe boggles my mind, as I’m sure it does the writers’. I mean, how do you remember that X character went into Y store at this time and saw Z AND keep this seemingly pointless interaction in-line with everything else that is slowly unfolding around us?? Having two series that bounce off of each other so well is one of the franchise’s great hallmarks without a doubt!

The franchise’s most famous story, the “Sisters Arc”, is known throughout all seasons and reiterations of the story for its complexity, and has been heralded as a brilliant story all on its own between its gripping characters and powerful, conflicting emotions. Having been told in both Index season one and elaborated on in Railgun S, the multi-lens perspective of both Touma and Misaka only proves that the writers of the Raildex franchise know exactly what they are doing, and I just can’t wait for more.

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#2 – The Battle of Concepts: Science VS Magic

Kind of an obvious one, as I like my action scenes just as much as the next guy. But beyond just visuals, Index makes it especially clear that actions are rooted in beliefs, faiths even, and this battle of concepts—of ideologies—is the real fight I’m talking about here. One of the first things that drew me to this universe was Esper power hierarchy, which rates a student’s ability from 0 to 5. This power system also influences the socioeconomic balance, where your Level 4s and 5s are practically viewed as pop stars living lavish lifestyles. (We quickly find this doesn’t apply to everyone, though.)

But just like real science, researchers are all working to push the boundaries of what humans are capable of—the ultimate goal, of course, being to produce the first Level 6. Some scientists lie in the depths of Academy City’s darkness to deceive, trap, and capture innocent children and Espers alike for the sake of their research. Although twisted, the dedication to making the process as truly scientific as possible was what won me over as a fan. Misaka’s railgun is grounded in real scientific principles, and there’s always a satisfying explanation to how an Esper uses their supernatural powers.

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Unlike science’s dedication to mapping the brain and dissecting DNA, magic is a difficult concept to unravel, which makes sense given that magic in this world and in ours is tied to myths, legends, and stories of old. Religious doctrines and artifacts are referenced left and right in Index, and although not as clearly defined as the science side, it’s always fascinating to see how these mythical ideas and religious figures translate to a medium as exploratory as anime.

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#1 – The Sprawling Metropolis of Academy City

Annnnd my favorite reason I love this franchise is for the setting itself, Academy City. In fact, if I could live in any one fictional anime setting it would be Academy City. I mean, beautiful buildings sparkle in the sunlight, shopping districts are everywhere, the weather is predicted down to the second, cafes can be found at every street corner—it MUST be the place for me! Not to mention a chance at having psychokinetic abilities and a curriculum to develop those powers?? HECK YEAH COUNT ME IN. It is essentially a utopia, a perfect place for near-perfect people. But what we find is that this drive for perfection also makes it the perfect place for underground organizations to manipulate social happenings.

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Arguably more of a character than a location, Academy City becomes the converging point for nearly every element of the story. Watching it become warped over the course of series as the climate for war increases is astounding, and it’s awesome that we’re finally getting to find out what will happen in this climactic third world war. For every conflict between religious institutions there has been an illegal experiment in some seemingly defunct laboratory. Between the Mages and Espers, scientists and magicians, and terrorists within and outside the walls all trying to maintain their hold on this sprawling metropolis, Academy City has mastered the duality of darkness. Possibilities are quite literally endless in a place that favors advancement and new ideas, and that’s why I love it so much.

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A Thank-You to Everyone Involved

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, this entire franchise, specifically the Railgun side, has meant a lot to me over my years an anime fan. Yet, I never really have expressed my love for it before on my blog (maybe after I rewatch it all I’ll have something to say). And so, I just wanted to offer my sincerest thanks to everyone who has been involved with this massive project:

To all the writers, especially Kazuma Kamachi for the original story of Index; to artist Kiyotaka Haimura for his art in the Index light novel as well as for all the memorable character designs; to Motoi Fuyukawa for creating the Railgun spin-off manga; to Hiroshi Nishikiori and Tatsuyuki Nagai for directing Index and Railgun, respectively; to the endearing Kawada Mami on Index and electrifying fripSide on Railgun for providing their incredible opening theme songs; to all the producers, voice actors (both sub and dub), TV broadcasters, licensing companies like Funimation, Crunchyroll, Seven Seas, and Yen On for bringing over the anime and books to the states, and to everyone else that I missed—

Words cannot express how thankful I am to have had such an incredibly fascinating and intricate universe of thought brought to me over the years. Your collaborative efforts on this tremendous project have inspired a generation of young fans, myself included, to think outside the box and create our own personal realities. Thank you all!

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Afterword

Guys, I used to be OBSESSED with this franchise you have no idea. With the suddenly recent airing of the long-awaited Index III (as well as an announcement of a third season of Railgun and EVEN an adaptation of the Accelerator spin-off), there’s never been a better time to be a fan. And if you’ve held off for this long for one reason or another, now’s an excellent time to jump right on in. You’ve got novels, manga, several TV series, and even a film to enjoy at whatever pace you’re comfortable with. My personal recommendation? If you’re an anime-only person, start with A Certain Scientific Railgun season one. It introduces the world and Academy City better than Index does in my opinion. Then hit up Index’s first season, Railgun SIndex II, and the Endymion film. If you’re already a fan, then where have ya been?? Let me know in the comments, and also what your favorite entry or story in the franchise is!

This concludes my November 20th entry in the OWLS “Thankful” blog tour. YumDeku (MyAnime2go) talked about two anime they were thankful for, which you can find out what those were right here! Now, look out for our good friend and prompt-writer Lyn (LynLyn Says) with a post coming Wednesday, November 21st! Thanks for listening to me fanboy about Index for over 2,000 words (you rock!), and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Magical Girl Raising Project: Being Irresistibly Drawn to Death | OWLS “Grotesque”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, then you might be new. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, welcome to my anime cafe!” For the OWLS blog tour’s  tenth monthly topic for 2018, “Grotesque,” I wanted to revel in the spooky fall festivities by cross-examining an unconventional magical girl throwback from 2016 with humanity’s intriguing obsession for death and the macabre. As someone interested in human behavior, it’s a fascinating area to study, and hopefully I’ll be able to make some science out of the magical!

In honor of Halloween, we will explore what we find vile and ugly in pop culture. For this month’s topic, OWLS bloggers will be exploring characters or aspects of the grotesque in a piece of media and how it is a metaphor or allegory for society, human nature, or some other philosophical or humane idea.

Heads-up! This post will dabble more into studying the human condition than evaluating the series itself. My personal thoughts? It’s a twisted little title with an engaging battle royale setup that turns out somewhat lackluster in the end but is still stupidly entertaining. Watch it. I liked it, and seeing as how we seem to be irresistibly drawn to that which is gruesome (even if for no apparent reason), you should like it to, right? riGhT??

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A brief, spoiler-free discussion on the 12-episode fall 2016 anime “Magical Girl Raising Project,” animated by Lerche, directed by Hiroyuki Hashimoto, and based on Asari Endou’s light novel series of the same name. This will also include a light historical context analysis on how pop culture and the media make a spectacle of death and gore.

Again, this will be SPOILER-FREE, so enjoy!

“You’ve been selected to become a magical girl, pon!”

Magical Girl Raising Project. It’s the latest fad to dominate the mobile game sphere, and it seems that every young girl and adult woman alike in N-City can’t seem to stop playing the app game. Jumping into combat with your sparkly avatar, beating up shadow beasts, collecting candies—it’s the closest thing they have to being a real life magical girl! For Koyuki Himekawa, however, the app offers more than a mere simulation. One day, she receives a peculiar notification from Fav, the game’s mascot, saying that she has been selected to become a real magical girl. Unknowing the full implications of their contract, she eagerly accepts the offer to become her adorable in-game avatar Snow White.

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Gifted with the ability to transform at any time, Koyuki viewed her new life with a newfound optimism and excitement. That is, until the game admins sent out a startling notification claiming that “the number of magical girls in this region must be halved,” as the system couldn’t support the whopping 16 players who decided to take on the magical mission. The one to collect the least amount of Magical Candies—which are awarded for their magical girl activities—at the end of each week will lose their powers. But when a real-world tragedy befalls the first player to drop out, they find that their powers aren’t the only thing stripped from them.

As the magical girls perilously try to avoid their fate by cheating on their fellow players and throwing one another under the bus, the enigmatic Fav continues to add more twisted rules, forcing these young hearts to realize that what started off as a shining opportunity to help others has become a desperate struggle for their own lives.

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I’ll be frank with y’all: the story suffers largely from its systematic approach to execution and trying to develop its immense cast within 12 short episodes. While not Juni Taisen levels of predictability (God, that show disappointed me so much), you can pretty much tell who’s gonna go next based on the placement of their backstory. Ahh yes, the it’s the typical “Here I am and now I’m gone!” approach to character writing. In the instances where the show is able to catch you by surprise, however, those are the thrilling moments when the entertainment value shines through. Call it underdeveloped, or rushed, or even lackluster at times (I mean, the ending could’ve at least been more intense), but to call it “boring” would be a great underestimation of its twisted imagination and off-the-walls fun characters.

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From Wild-West to the Wicked and the Blessed

I can guess what stood out to you most—16 characters, right? Yeah, even for a battle royale that’s quite the large ensemble. Like they did with Danganronpa: The Animation and Assassination Classroom, Lerche was able to communicate the variety of personalities through unique dialogue patterns and intricate character designs. One of my fiendish favorites, the brazen and dangerous Calamity Mary, for instance, dons wild-west gunslinger apparel (boots, spurs, hats, tassels, leather, cow print, you get the picture). In the English dub, Mikaela Krantz even voices her with a low syrupy tone and a heavy southern accent. While I may not remember the specifics of her life before becoming a magical girl (as these important backstories are often rushed through in a couple minutes before their untimely demise), I will remember who she was and how she acted based on the distinctive character designs.

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A good pal of mine and genius essayist Irina wrote about my other favorite magical girl, the almighty, all-knowing QUEEN Ruler in a neat character analysis that I absolutely loved. She vouches for the same opinion that I do, in that “Raising Project isn’t perfect by any means but it certainly isn’t shallow. The writing is on point in many aspects.”

Although some characters look more put together with a theme than others (looking at you Swim Swim), I really enjoyed the diverse cast of tropes interacting on the battlefield: the sparkly one, the innocent one, the queen, the twins, the cowgirl rebel, the ninja, the witch, the badass protector, the nun, and even the freakin’ ROBOT. Some last longer than others, and some go out with a bigger bang while others exit the stage silently. A huge criticism many people have about the series is that the deaths feel too structured—I mean, we all know that someone’s gotta go by the end of each week, and the anime is true to its word. What this creates is a lack of empathy towards most of the girls and ultimately a mere “meh” or “aww that sucks, I liked her” when they die. More than anything, the show plays off these deaths as thrilling over depressing, and that got me wondering:

When did we become so fascinated with torturing little girls in anime to the point where it has dominated nearly every magical girl title in recent times? 

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How Horror Works in the Mind

I took to Psychology Today for a bit of research on the topic, which led me to the article “Why Do We Like Watching Scary Films?” Briefly, it examines psychological horror at the cinema and how the genre works in the mind. When answering the question, author Mark D. Griffiths Ph.D. quotes Dr. Jeffrey Goldstein, a professor of social and organizational psychology at the University of Utrecht, in a 2013 interview for IGN:

“People go to horror films because they want to be frightened or they wouldn’t do it twice. You choose your entertainment because you want it to affect you. That’s certainly true of people who go to entertainment products like horror films that have big effects. They want those effects . . . Even though they choose to watch these things, the images are still disturbing for many people. But people have the ability to pay attention as much or as little as they care to in order to control what effect it has on them, emotionally and otherwise.”

That last bit especially got me interested. He claims that we are the ones who choose our entertainment, and that we also have the ability to let the content affect us (in this case potentially scare us) based on how much we care to pay attention to the film. And I can see this as true—if I were to attend a scary movie and cover my eyes half the time (which I wouldn’t go to in the first place cause I’m a wimp), my desire would be that the film frightens me as little as possible.

Now, would the same apply to the film maker(s)? I mean, the director is essentially the one deciding how much gruesome content to put in front of our eyes, so if a series were nothing but moments of shock value (interspersed with some touching backstories, of course), wouldn’t that be what the director also cares about most in the series? Maybe seeing Madoka Magica receive immense fame gave him the idea to go all-out with the suffering. Besides, what’s more shocking to us anime fans than watching cutesy moe girls get massacred? Once one series showed us it could be done, everyone else wanted to do it too.

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A 2004 article in the Journal of Media Psychology by Dr. Glenn Walters proposes that “the three primary factors that make horror films alluring are tension (generated by suspense, mystery, terror, shock, and gore), relevance (that may relate to personal relevance, cultural meaningfulness, the fear of death, etc.), and (somewhat paradoxically given the second factor) unrealism.” In a 1994 study on disgust, college student participants found videos of real life horrors (like a cow slaughterhouse and a surgery involving removal of facial skin) to be incredibly disturbing. Yet many of these same individuals would think nothing of paying money to attend the premiere of a new horror film that had literally ten times more blood than what was present in the real-life documentaries! Why is that? It was posed by McCauley (1998) that:

The fictional nature of horror films affords viewers a sense of control by placing psychological distance between them and the violent acts they have witnessed. Most people who view horror movies understand that the filmed events are unreal, which furnishes them with psychological distance from the horror portrayed in the film.

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Oh, so if we know it’s fake, it doesn’t inherently terrify us as much, despite blood and guts leaking all over the floor. I suppose that makes sense. Even I don’t see clowns as scary when I remember that they’re likely just unshaven middle-aged men dancing around in colorful costumes. But even if it’s fake, some people enjoy the thrill of being confronted by gruesome death because it’s an experience that, for the most part, it’s something available only in fiction, and fiction intrigues us. One last look at Dr. Dolf Zillman’s Excitation Transfer theory (ETT) offers this:

“Negative feelings created by horror movies actually intensify the positive feelings when the hero triumphs in the end. But what about movies where the hero doesn’t triumph?  . . . Some small studies have show that people’s enjoyment was actually higher during the scary parts of a horror film than it was after.”

Alright, so you’re saying that perhaps the scary parts of a horror film are more enjoyable than the rest of the film itself? That perhaps explains why pop culture hits like The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, and heck even Attack on Titan delight in killing off major characters in fantastical ways—During these “scary” parts, we find ourselves at peak enjoyment, and if the writers can capitalize on this enjoyment through constant narrative twists and turns, then the viewers will stay glued to their screens. But hold on a second . . .

Magical Girl Raising Project isn’t horror, not even close. It’s barely a thriller series at best. Fair point, but think about the content itself: Purposefully designed cute children under the innocent guise of “magical girls” get brutally slashed or decapitated NOT by the forces of evil, but by fellow magical girls. Tension caused by suspense; relevance caused by a magical girl’s fear for her own life; unrealism given that magical girls shouldn’t exist within our world or theirs . . . Doesn’t that mark MagiPro as gruesome as horror—as grotesque as horror? And how about this: The most grotesque part about it all is that as fans, most of us enjoyed watching this series. Sure it ranks in the 3000s on MAL, but a  7.11/10 could be implied that 7 out of 10 people liked this series—cute girls, competition, and all the bloodshed in between. 

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At Least I Had Fun

Regardless of whether we should count MagiPro as a horror anime or an anime with horror elements, I did find myself enjoying it. A lot. Probably more than I should have. With each passing episode and character elegy, I truly found myself helplessly and irresistibly drawn to death. As more characters bit the bullet, I eagerly clicked on to see not necessarily who would survive, but rather who would fall out of the competition next. As unnecessarily dark and edgy, unnecessarily gruesome, and unnecessarily sophisticated as it tried to be, Magical Girl Raising Project won me over because it shamelessly played with death. And isn’t that the true spirit of the macabre?

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“As a means of contrast with the sublime, the grotesque is, in our view, the richest source that nature can offer.”—Victor Hugo, French Poet


Afterword

Yikes, went on a bit of a ramble there with the research, but maybe you learned something new! Magical Girl Raising Project is an interesting title that has gotten me thinking more than it probably should, but hey, a series that has me reflecting this much over it has to be doing something right. MagiPro isn’t the darkest of its kin, but definitely one of the sweetest. Thus, I award the series with the “Cake” rating, and a recommendation to check it out if you enjoy the thrill of a decent survival game. Not sure if Crunchyroll has it, but Funimation’s got it all with an incredibly well-done English dub that just finished airing for your viewing pleasure! If you have seen this series, you definitely have to let me know what you thought about it (I need more MagiPro friends)!!

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This concludes my October 19th entry in the OWLS “Grotesque” blog tour. Aria (Animanga Spellbook) went right before me with a nice and short post over the recently-aired Phantom in the Twilight that you should check out right here! Now, look out for Flow (Captain Nyanpasu)  this upcoming Monday, October 22nd! Thanks for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Ebb & Flow: Taking Life Slowly With ARIA | OWLS “Self-Care”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, then you might be new. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, welcome to my anime cafe!” For the OWLS blog tour’s  ninth monthly topic for 2018, “Self-Care,” I kinda wanted to break away from my typically structured review + reflection post and do a bit of free-writing about my own mental health. (Although I do not have any mental health illnesses, I do know what it’s like to be incredibly busy under pressure.) And what better a way to pull back the reins on my recently-rushed and unmotivated life than with one of the most soothing, slow-moving anime about enjoying every second of the present—Aria The Animation.

In favor of positivity and good mental health, we will be exploring the importance of self-care. Sometimes, we are lost in our thoughts and emotions that it can cause a negative impact on our lifestyle and our relationships. We will be exploring the mental health of pop culture characters and how their mental health affects their environments. We will explore the dangers of mental health illnesses and how it might lead to self-destruction and/or how one has the power to overcome their demons. In addition, we will share our personal stories and struggles about mental health and discuss positive ways in handling mental health issues.

Rather than gazing straight into the mindset of mental health, I’d like to flip the topic inside-out a bit and show how the environment affects mental health instead—specifically, how we can shape our mindsets to ease tension and better our lives. Thanks Lyn for the topic!

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A brief, spoiler-free discussion on the 13-episode fall 2005 anime “Aria The Animation,” Hal Film Maker, directed by Junichi Satou, and based on Kozue Amano’s manga of the same name. This will also include a glimpse into my life, and how “Aria”  provides healing to those who need it. 

Tired, Stressed, & Tired of Being Stressed

If you came to my blog two years ago, you would’ve found it abundant with reviews and updates, and rich with a comments section that was always in full-swing. My my! That’s a bit hard to believe considering that within the past couple months, I would go weeks at a time without posting so much as a peep into what’s going on, save for the monthly OWLS post (like this one, which would go out, and then I would hibernate again). “What brought you to this level of stagnation,” you might ask? My need to write about every single series that I finished, rather than just the ones I really wanted to talk about, became a ritual that crushed my motivation. Even just thinking about all the shows I’ve missed coverage on from these past couple seasons makes my stomach hurt a bit.

Not only did I consider dismissing writing reviews, but I also wanted a break from blogging. Just a short one. It didn’t even have to be announced, and so I didn’t announce it. But once you have a small taste of “freedom” (even though I love blogging), all you want is more of it. And so one week became two, two became three, and so on.

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It didn’t help that my life always seemed to be swatting my blog away This past summer, I worked two jobs simultaneously and was busy with music-related things on the side. Now, I am a full-time student at university (a sophomore, to be exact) clocking in 18 hours, including a position as a student success coach (I work with freshmen during their first year experience), ALL of my never-ending music nonsense (which keeps me as busy as a year-round sport would), and a part-time job. I tease myself (and am teased by others) for being generally lazy and procrastinating, but to call myself “inactive” would be far from the truth.

By 8 in the morning I’m at school, and I don’t get home until about 3 . . . only to go into work most days at 4 or 6 in the evening and return home at around 9:30 pm. After homework, I watch an episode or two of whatever I’m following this season, then go to bed at around midnight. Call it me complaining about how stupid my schedule is, but I thought telling you all about my life would help you understand why I’m constantly tired, stressed, and tired of being stressed. To top it all off, my OWLS deadline was approaching rapidly, and I had NO IDEA what to focus on. That’s where the self-care part comes in—when a package arrived on my doorstep one monotonous, unsuspecting day.

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And Along Came Aria

I actually watched Aria’s first season back in the summer of 2017 in a mad dash to justify whether or not I should participate in RightStuf and Nozomi’s Kickstarter campaign for a dub and Blu-ray release of the property. Safe to say that, even though I didn’t enjoy it to its fullest potential during my initial rushed watch, the first season alone was enough to tell me that I’d enjoy everything the franchise had to offer. So I pledged heftily at the Prima Tier and a year later . . .

My Kickstarter awards arrived on my doorstep just last week. As I sifted through the box of goodies—which I will share in an upcoming post—I instantly recalled the calming allure of Aria. Eagerly and impulsively, I plugged the first disc in, feeling a rush of utter wonder and joy at hearing this year-long project payoff in the form of its fantastic English dub cast. From Choro Club’s vibrant yet chill acoustic soundtrack to the flowing canals and charming watercolor artistry of Neo Venezia, I was reminded of not only how much I loved Aria, but intriguingly, how much I truly needed it in that moment.

For just 20 minutes, I had blocked out the world and my obligations to truly enjoy time to myself, and it was wonderful. Then it hit me: “Aria. I could talk about Aria, and how slowing down is the first step to understanding self-care,” which brings me to now, and the last part of my short little story.

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Finding Inspiration Starts with Slowing Down

During these past six or so months, I have struggled with finding the inspiration to write. I think it’s no use hiding it anymore, for if I truly loved blogging I would make the time to do it. I constantly got behind on comments and reviews, and it seemed like the only game I was playing was the “Catch-Up Game” (of which I am STILL a major loser, haha). Everyone around me would be celebrating the now, while I was reflecting on then, and I felt kinda lonely.

But I think my biggest fault lies with my understanding of inspiration. Previously, I would try to forcibly (and desparately) “jump start” my inspiration by traveling down nostalgia lane with older titles I love ( like rewatching Negima!?, Danganronpa, and yes, ALL of FMAB) or reading/watching from people who used to inspire me in the past. Is this something only I do?? I treated inspiration as a source, tapping into all of my resources that had already gone dry long ago, and in the end I just grew sad at how things used to be and what they’ve become. (Call me a romantic, or just depressed.)

After taking all this time off, however, I learned that inspiration is not a source, but a wave—an ebb and a flow that comes, and eventually goes. As frustrated as I became with my lack of passion, I first had to accept the fact I was experiencing a lull. With my last post, everything came to a halt, and I left the keyboard until the wave washed upon my aching feet once again.

And then along came Aria, a show that is as healing as the so-called “Iyashikei” genre gets. Heck, you could call it one of the firsts. Quiet, episodic, and slow enough to thoroughly enjoy the scenic gondola ride, Aria is warm soup for the soul. In rewatching Aria, my heart beat physically slowed down, and I found myself incredibly contented and, finally, relaxed.

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You need time to relax in order to recharge.Alicia

As Inexplicably Wondrous as it is Wonderful

Aria is unique because it takes sci-fi from a very mellow perspective. Messing with gravity, terraforming Mars, and unexpectedly waltzing through time holes into the long-lost past would leave viewers watching any other show confused and questioning all the plot holes. But with Aria, it works because the science fiction elements are just devices that lead us to understanding the bigger picture: What it means to enjoy life and all that it has to offer. The same applies to the element of drama in Aria—situations never get too intense or bitterly poignant because, as Aika would always remark, “NO SAPPY LINES ALLOWED!”

In many ways, Aria is a prime example of how magical realism can construct characters with very much real emotions and tell stories about them living in a world that is as inexplicably wondrous as it is wonderful. Every single minute of the series is filled with simple expressions of love, and as the seasons roll by, we see that how we live our lives must change, too. By being able to slow down and assess how the world outside is changing us from within, we can better understand how to take care of ourselves.

Slowing down between all the busy, anxiety-filled moments in my life allowed me to rediscover my inspiration. Slowing down allowed me to admire the little things I missed out on. And most of all, slowing down allowed me to remember that the things I can do here, on this blog, truly are enjoyable—I just need to take the gondola ride at my own pace, and remember that everything will be alright in the end.

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Take whatever comes and change it inside yourself. Make everything something you enjoy . . . It’s truly such a simple thing, to enjoy what you do. But everyone always seems to forget it. — “Grandma”


Afterword

Rewatching this “Caffe Mocha” title and writing this reflection post was one of the best things to happen to me all year. It won’t go down as one of my most professional posts, but I’ll be able to look back on it as a snapshot of my emotions—how and why I felt the way I did, exactly at this time. And that is one of the greatest joys of blogging, to be able to archive moments like these and share them with others, good times and not-so-hot times alike. After writing this, I’m actually really looking forward to the next post, and the one after that, too! As Aria would say, “Thank you for spending this wonderful moment, together!”

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This concludes my September 14th entry in the OWLS “Self-Care” blog tour. Matt Doyle (Matt Doyle Media) went right before me with his own insightful, cautionary tale on hitting rock bottom which you can read right here. (That makes two of us for this tour, buddy!) Now, look out for blogger buddy (and one of my own inspirations) Lita (Lita Anime Corner) on Saturday, September 15th! Thanks for reading, and until next time, take it easy on yourself!

– Takuto, your host

From the New World: Through Horror, Calamity, & the Truth | OWLS “Journey”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, you might be new to this place. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, and welcome to my anime cafe!” As part of the OWLS blog tour’s eighth monthly topic for 2018, “Journey,” I definitely wanted to hone my focus on one of anime’s true bests. Originally intended to be a post on Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (since I had just finished rewatching it and it’s not everyday you can say “I managed to fit in a rewatch of a 64-episode show!”), another fellow OWLS member snatched it up for the taking. I know she’ll do a nice job over it though, and that makes me very excited!

Anyway, that’s why I ended up going with another series I just happened to be rewatching with my siblings: Shinsekai Yori or From the New World, a bizarre dystopian sci-fi/fantasy series that I actually covered way back in, what, 2015? You can read my fresh, immature thoughts over the series here if you enjoy the prospect of knowing what young Takuto was like! *shudders as a single tear falls down face*

We have all heard this saying in some shape or form: “Life is a journey.” We travel down a path hoping that we reach a goal or destination, but the travel in getting there isn’t always easy. Along the way, we encounter some personal struggles. It is in those moments where we must overcome an adversity to complete our journey or take a different route or path instead. In this month’s OWLS post, we will be discussing the personal journeys of pop culture creators, icons, and characters. We will explore the journeys that these characters went through, discuss the process and experiences they had on their journeys, acknowledge what they discover about themselves, or share our own personal journeys.

Seeing as how I’ve already covered the series before, this won’t be my typical review and life reflection 2-in-1 post. Instead, I’ll dive straight into the heart of the matter and dedicate this entire analytical post toward the story’s main character, a girl whom we follow from the youth of adolescence to the ripe ages of adulthood—and all the messiness in between. Thanks Mel for the adventurous prompt this month, and Lyn for turning such a simple word into a universe of thought worth exploring!

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A brief discussion on the 25-episode fall 2012 anime “From the New World,” animated by A-1 Pictures, directed by Masashi Ishihama, and based on Yusuke Kishi’s novel of the same name. Specifically, this will be a light character essay on the main female lead, Saki Watanabe. What she learns over the course of her journey—and more importantly, what she does with this new, scary knowledge—stands as attest to both humanity’s innate barbarity and its determination to pursue justice through truth—even if the truth can be the cruelest thing of all. 

Spoilers will be marked, although you should just do yourself a favor and watch this series!

A Preface to the Madness

Shinsekai Yori tells the unique coming-of-age story of Saki and her friends as they journey to grow into their roles in the supposed utopia. Accepting these roles, however, might not come easy when faced with the dark and shocking truths of society, and the impending havoc born from the new world.

(Source: MyAnimeList)

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Adolescence

Rules, Roles, Law and Order, Crime and Punishment


We open this story of a young girl and her five precious friends growing up in the 31st century with the induction of Saki Watanabe into society. Her psychic powers are sealed away only to be released back to her a moment later, perhaps to prove that the Ethics and Education Committees had absolute control of the average citizen’s entire life from the start. Made up by select adult village members of Kamisu 66 and the surrounding areas, these councils govern not only the flow of power, but of knowledge, too. A small population living in an idyllic area holding power above all, culling the weakest in education, and secretly disposing any child that failed to fit the mold—that was the true reality. While times were peaceful then, fear still snuck its way into Saki’s heart when one of her friends suddenly disappeared one day. “She was always a bit frail. Maybe the trickster cat got her?” Thus began Saki’s series of revelations, heartache, and confusion in the dark.

Rather than a sci-fi action show about revolution or a drama full of romance, From the New World is more a commentary on the fallacies of conservatism and how a society can actually be harmed by perpetuation and stagnation. This first arc happily entertains us with games of clay rollers and paper dolls, but also frightens us with things we do not know, cannot explain, and cannot comprehend, much like what we experience during childhood. “If only I had known ‘this,’ or if only I had prevented ‘that’ none of this would’ve happened.” A story told in flashback as a first person narrative, Saki reflects on how painful her youth really was now that she knows the truths surrounding her innocent circumstance.

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The foreshadowing builds when Saki and the rest of Group One (comprised of her closest friends, the other main characters) venture off the main path into forbidden territory during a school camping trip. Together, they enjoy their friendship and freedom, rowing past the safe areas in search of monsters, but what they find is much worse than what they imagined: a False Minoshiro, a walking digital library of information disguised as a creature of nature. At the children’s’ threatening request, the False Minoshiro leaks startling info regarding the world around them, such as how their society came to be and the violence and bloodshed humanity had encountered in the past millennium. Scarred and left in utter disbelief, the oriented narrative of history proves itself a guiding theme through this shocking discovery.

Then, the hero descends into the underworld; a clan of monster rats, a lower race of rat people that look up to humans as gods for their incredible powers, captures Saki and Satoru. And as fate would have it, it was there in that forest where they met Squealer, a pathetic little monster rat who spoke their language and helped them escape. Setting the groundwork for everything to come, adult Saki closes out the adolescence arc reminiscing on their ill-fated meeting not with anger and hatred, but a bitter regret for her own ignorance.

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The Teenage Years

Independence, Self-Advancement, Personality, Free Will


Beginning with scenes of teenagers of the same gender holding hands and openly making out on the grass, this next arc ushers in new emotions besides fear: deceit, desire, malice, envy, lust, and love. Just as the False Minoshiro predicted, humans, like their genetic chimpanzee counterparts the bonobos, seek passionate love as a coping mechanism for immense stress relief, hence the sudden changes in behavior. This sexual awakening causes Saki’s inner love and admiration for her friend Maria to develop into a serious relationship; the same goes for Satoru and Shun, and poor Mamoru is left out with unrequited feelings for Maria, ultimately leading to the group’s self-destruction.

– SPOILERS AHEAD – 

Hiding his inability to accurately control his psychic powers, Shun transforms into a karmic demon, or runaway esper, and meets his fate like how the adults taught them to in school: solitary confinement and suicide. His sacrifice saves civilization, but Saki and Satoru are left broken with voids echoing in their hearts. Sometimes we get left behind—but what’s worse is when we have to leave behind others.

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Despite practicing using his psychic powers every day in hopes of both not falling behind the others and getting Maria’s attention, Mamoru’s efforts are not enough. He flees the village, knowing full well that two visits by the trickster cat means certain death. Terrifying thoughts of his well-being race through Group One’s minds, and although they find him salvaged from the snow by a wild monster rat, they know that the matter of simply returning him to the village is out of the question. Bidding farewell, Maria promises to watch over Mamoru in the unknown icy landscape, and the pain of being away from Maria devastates Saki. Did Mamoru let society down, or did society let him down? Saki’s ironclad resolve to change her world begins to take shape—something must be done.

– END OF SPOILERS – 

To top it all off, prior to Mamoru’s departure Saki is met by the mentor, the head of the Ethics Committee (and Satoru’s grandmother) Tomiko Asahina, who shielded Saki and her friends from disposal by the Education Committee for knowing about their true history. Eyeing Saki for her strong mental stability as well as qualities of a leader, Tomiko seeks Saki as her successor. But Tomiko’s knowledge of humanity’s history timed with the revelation as to her sudden memory loss leaves Saki beyond disturbed. Torn between doing what was best for her people, herself, and her long-lost friends, Saki’s youthful days came to an end with the return of an old acquaintance . . .

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Adulthood

Interdependence, Empathy, Intimacy, Self-Awareness, Wise Counsel


– SPOILERS AHEAD – 

Squealer, now the self-proclaimed Yakomaru, has elevated in status from lowly Robber Fly Colony slave to its commander. With their clan’s queen shackled and practically imprisoned, Yakomaru was able to set up a two-house diet similar to humanity’s government. He deceived other clans and conquered them, subverting his intentions when questioned by the board of monster rat management, of which Saki now belongs. His armies were massive, his weapons were civilized, and his speech was greatly improved. In other words, he was ready for his next target.

– END OF SPOILERS – 

By this point, we, along with Saki, had borne witness to humanity’s miracles and carnage alike. At last, we’d understood that rebellious and reformative elements are the biggest interior threats, and that exploitation of those perceived as inferior beings is a grave and serious crime. We’d been tricked time and time again by Squealer, but were we doomed to repeat what our elders did before us? What had we learned? What made this time different?

Joy and sorrow. Loss and loneliness.

Palpitation and stagnation. History and evolution.

Past and future. Death and rebirth. Fear and freedom.

But above all, we’ve understood that to feign ignorance is the greatest crime of all. We can’t keep blaming people for their shortcomings, but instead should help guide them in becoming better. Corruption breeds from within when we close off our minds and our hearts to new peoples and ideas, and while we are weak when we are desperate, we are strong when it counts. People are twisted, easily corrupted, and worst of all, easily scared. To tear the world apart is easy; to put it all back together, not so much—that is what I’ve learned from Saki’s journey.

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A Journey Through Horror and Calamity

“It is always darkest underneath the lamp.” — Old Proverb


Together, we’ve embarked on one of the greatest journeys ever conceived, and I believe it is such because, at its core, From the New World is the story of humanity. Of us, and the terrible, absolutely horrifying things we have done and will continue to do should we look away from the truth. Often, it is closer than we think. Maria once told Saki that “Sometimes, the truth is the cruelest thing of all,” and that “Not everyone could bear it” as easily as she did. Oh, how right she was.

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And now here we are, at the end of the madness and frustration with little chance of success, yet still a sliver of hope. To kill, or to be killed—that and so much more is the subject of the final episode, and I’ll save the rest of it for you to discover on your own. Culminating into a genius story of fearing the unknown and the darkness within us all, From the New World comes right out and says “The one we should be most afraid of is ourselves.” I hope both its sheer violent nature and resounding messages of hope will stick with you, too, for a long time to come. Because this one’s not just an anime—it is a lesson on the human spirit: a cautionary tale for all those in life we change, and all those who change us.

“We have to change our way of thinking if we really want to change the future.” And to those ends, we must safeguard our hearts with an imagination great enough to change everything.

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Imagination has the power to change everything.Final line of From the New World


Afterword

I had to leave out SO MUCH STUFF in order to make it suitable for all readers, and even then, I couldn’t explain some of Saki’s developments without mentioning a couple major spoilers! Sheesh! I’ll never win. Anyway, that’s From the New World in a nutshell . . . NOT. There’s so much more to this incredible masterpiece, and I do hope you get around to this 25-episode thrill ride some day. I’d love to read any of your thoughts about this post in the comments, and if you have seen From the New World, you ought to let me know what you thought of the series! This post is absolute PROOF that I could go on forever about how great it truly is, and how phenomenal Saki is as a protagonist! Seriously, it was such a pleasure getting to revisit this hauntingly beautiful title.

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This concludes my August 7th entry in the OWLS “Journey” blog tour. Shay (Anime Reviewer Girl) went right before me with a video about the adventurous spirit of the Pokemon franchise which you can watch right here! Now, look out for blogger buddy  Matthew Castillo (Matt-in-the-Hat) with a post on Naruto‘s Jiraiya this Thursday, August 9th! Thanks for reading such a long post, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host